Taulant smells blood, with Xhaka brothers set for clash

Midfielder Granit Xhaka (left) has started just two games for Arsenal but could find himself going up against his brother Taulant of Swiss club Basel in the Champions League today.
Midfielder Granit Xhaka (left) has started just two games for Arsenal but could find himself going up against his brother Taulant of Swiss club Basel in the Champions League today.

BASEL • It was Mark Waugh who was famously told by England bowler Jimmy Ormond: "You're not even the best cricketer in your own family."

Taulant Xhaka is another of those rare sportsmen who sit in the middle of that Venn diagram: good enough to represent his country, not quite good enough to be "numero uno" when the clan gather for Sunday roast.

Taulant, 25, is a highly accomplished footballer in his own right, and a key member of Urs Fischer's Basel side.

But it is his familial misfortune to be the older brother of midfielder Granit, who turned 24 yesterday.

Switzerland's best player cost Arsenal £30 million (S$52.95 million) this summer.

The Champions League draw has brought the siblings into direct competition - and the fraternal comparison into even sharper focus than usual. It must be hard to establish your own identity when you are constantly being crowded by reporters desperate for the latest word on your little brother.

"I don't feel I'm in Granit's shadow," Taulant says. "It's not a thing for me. I think I've shown that through my performances for Basel."

Of course, today's fixture will not be the first time that the brothers have faced each other. They were on opposite sides only three months ago at Euro 2016, when Switzerland defeated Albania, the country of their parentage which Taulant has chosen to represent.

Granit was probably the best player on the pitch; Taulant was substituted after an hour and flung his water bottle away in frustration.

It was an awkward reunion. Taulant, who often plays at full back, was deployed in midfield, bringing him into direct combat with his sibling.

"I was a bit afraid to start with because I didn't want to injure him," he said.

This time, however, he is determined not to let his protective big brother instincts cloud his desire to inflict a wounding defeat on Granit's team.

"As the game goes on you forget and just focus on the game," he says. "It will be the same on Wednesday."

Once again Taulant's team are the underdogs, but Basel have a proud record of bloodying the noses of English sides in the Champions League in recent years.

They come up against an Arsenal team in scintillating form although Granit has so far featured only intermittently.

Taulant is not worried about Granit's start to life in north London.

"It was a good step in my opinion to join Arsenal. I am sure he can progress there," he said.

But, again, he will put family loyalties to one side.

THE TIMES, LONDON


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2016, with the headline 'Taulant smells blood, with Xhaka brothers set for clash'. Print Edition | Subscribe